Rookie earns Big Ten award

Online Poster

Online Poster

By Mike Czapar

The No. 3 men’s gymnastics team may have to start renting space to store all the awards they have stockpiled throughout the 2005 season. The squad that features three past All-Americans, two Winter Cup individual national champions, a pair of co-Big Ten individual champions, a silver medallist for the U.S. national team and several other awards added one more as freshman Wes Haagensen was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year on Saturday at the Big Ten Championships in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Haagensen made an impact immediately with the Illini enjoying a breakout rookie year, setting the school record in the all-around competition in only his second meet in orange and blue. His success continued throughout the year, featuring several all-around individual titles and a fifth place finish at the Winter Cup in December.

Despite being injured during warm-ups at the Big Ten Championships, Haagensen was able to contribute to the team, and led the Illini to a school record rings performance and set a new individual rings record with a 9.850.

Haagensen said it was a great honor to be named Big Ten Freshman of the Year, but that the team competition is always his focus.

“In the back of my mind I kind of thought I might have a chance, but I wasn’t thinking about it at all during the meet,” Haagensen said. “It was a big honor for me, and I am really pleased to be named. My first year at Illinois has been great, and I really didn’t expect it to go this well.”

Haagensen attributes his success in transition to collegiate gymnastics to the coaching staff and his teammates for their help throughout the year.

“I felt a little unprepared when I was entering the season, but as the season got going everything sort of came together,” Haagensen said. “The coaches and the guys did a great job of helping me out, and that really helped me adapt to a different training environment.”

The last time an Illinois gymnast was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year was Dominick Minicucci in 1988. Minicucci went on to compete in the 1988 Olympics for Team USA in Seoul, Korea.

Head coach Yoshi Hayasaki said Haagensen’s performance this year is uncharacteristic of someone who is only a freshman, and that he joins a very elite group of Illinois gymnastics by winning the award.

“Being a freshman and our top all-around performer from the beginning of the season hasn’t happened in the history of Illinois gymnastics very often,” Hayasaki said. “The last four gymnasts that I can remember being that good all went on to some pretty incredible things.”

Haagensen is unsure if he will be competing on a limited basis for the NCAA Championships April 7-9, and said it will likely come down to how he feels in the days before the meet.

Regardless of his ability to compete, one thing is certain with Haagensen – his decision to come to Illinois.

“Illinois has been the best place for me, and I couldn’t have imagined going anywhere else,” Haagensen said. “It’s been a great year and it’s gone by really fast.”